Don’t forget winter fruit tree spraying

fruit tree blossoms

Decorative peach blossoms will set fine fruits if insects don’t wreak havoc on them!

Healthy fruit trees are the result of good care. One of the more important aspects of getting good fruit and having beautiful, blooming fruit and nut trees is the winter spraying regimen. This is a job all too frequently overlooked even in mild winter climates which offer plenty of time to do the job. There are many ways to protect fruit trees from destructive weather and pests but don’t forget winter fruit tree spraying. It should start in the autumn, as soon as trees drop their leaves, and continue until springtime opens the blossoms.

fruit on the tree

A fine crop of pluots

Fruit and nut tree varieties should be selected for your climate – or even microclimate. They all have different needs. Equally, fungal infections and insect pests have favorite areas and favorite host trees. For example, in warmer coastal parts of Los Angeles, citrus trees fall easy prey to scale, whitefly and mealybug. In others areas, black rot can eat into the limbs of stone fruit trees (plum, apricot, nectarine, etc.). Fire blight can turn branches of fruiting and ornamental pears black just about everywhere. And leaf-rollers and aphids can attack a whole assortment of fruit trees in warm winter climates where they are not killed off by frosts.

Garden sprayer

Find the sprayer that works best for you.

Just as you have a lot of choices with tree cultivars, you also have a wide range of tree protecting sprays. There are plenty of commercial products for sale, but I prefer to use the organic or old fashioned remedies that are less toxic and work as well – if not better. The best sprays to use in autumn and winter are the dormant oil sprays, usually lime-sulfur or copper-sulfate. These sprays will help suffocate over-wintering insects and can function as fungicides. Neem® is an organic spray that is also used safely to kill insect pests on edibles. Try to spray trees as soon as you can after leaf drop and, ideally, spray every three to four weeks until the flower buds swell. Sprays can harm pollinating insects, so avoid any treatments while trees are in bloom. Do not use lime in any form on apricot trees – especially after they bud up – since they are lime sensitive. For more sensitive and evergreen fruit trees growing in the milder regions, try using a lighter fine oil spray made for leaf contact. Most of these treatments are all-natural and organically acceptable.

It is best to spray when winds are not blowing. Coat the whole tree from branch tips to base. Some fruit or nut trees can also be sprayed after bud drop. Do a little research into the needs of your specific kind of fruit tree(s). Make sure you read the labels and follow directions carefully. It is important to use the right proportions when mixing with water.

fruiting peach

Healthy peach on the tree

Weather and timing are critical for fruit spraying to be most effective. Proper winter spraying of fruit trees can make the difference between beautiful, fruitful trees and struggling, nonproductive trees. Sometimes these treatments can even save a tree’s life.

Is the electric fence keeping rats out of the vegetable garden?

Electric net fencing

Fencing allows these vegetables to grow

This a follow-up to the experiment started in autumn when I surrounded my vegetable garden with a pliable electrical fencing. The fencing, sold as raccoon fence, was installed to see of it would stop the devastation being caused by invading chaparral rats and ground squirrels. These pests climbed all other barriers and ate both seeds and plants until it was impossible to grow any edibles in the vegetable garden. The fencing was set on a timer to be electrified only after dark. (Otherwise working in the vegetable garden could become decidedly uncomfortable and the rodents were most active at night.)


pest control

Close-up of the electrical raccoon wire. (Note the additional smaller mesh wire against the cement block goes 18″ deep to keep out gophers.)

For the first spring in years vegetables are sprouting from planted seed and growing. This is the first major test to see how the raccoon fencing rat experiment is working. The tender young shoots have been irresistible to rodents for years now, and this is the first time these edibles have grown unmolested. Although plants in the onion family have fared well in the past despite incursions of rats and mice, lettuce, cabbage and peas are also thriving. Even the squash seeds have been able to germinate. I have hopes that maybe the rodents are indeed being trained to avoid the electrified fencing and turning away from the inviting plants in the vegetable garden.

Although there have been nibbles on some leaves, there are no signs of the typical rodent aggressive gnawing. I believe small critters like snails or slugs are still finding their way in, but the damage so far has been minimal. I will continue monitoring the success of the raccoon fence as the season in my backyard garden progresses. So far it is looking very encouraging.  (I ordered my fence at Electric

Raccoon fencing

Fencing also surrounds the garden around the pond to keep out fishing raccoons.

Gardening on the internet

Gardening on the Internet

Gardening on the Internet: Cartoon by Jane Gates

Not only is the Internet a place where you can learn about gardening and get answers for many of your questions, but there are some very entertaining sites worthy of watching. But before you go surfing all around the Internet, it’s important to remember that not everything you read there is correct or factual. Be careful before you blithely follow instructions or advice you read.  Sometimes you can find yourself getting bad information.

Not all Internet writers are knowledgeable about the subject they are writing. In fact, at this point, the Internet is bloated with articles being churned out by ‘content sites’ – organizations that hire masses of people to write for low pay or for small residual percentages of profits from advertising fees.  Some of these people actually do know their subjects. I have participated in writing many articles this way for eHow, InfoBarrel and The Examiner. But many contributors to these sites simply are writing without experience, knowledge or research. Others may be writing for whatever pennies they can earn as a result of recession pressures and are more interested in attracting advertisers to pay them rather than having any interest in sharing any valuable information.

Of course, we can always learn from each other, from shared experiences, and even sometimes even from those we least expect. So just because a person may not have a lot of credentials doesn’t not necessarily mean the article doesn’t have good information, either. Just be careful before assuming whatever advice you read about is accurate or helpful. Check out the person behind the information you are getting or look for additional supporting information on multiple sites before setting out on a project.

There are many excellent sites on gardening, landscaping and horticulture as well as a number of sites posted by universities and government that can help you with your gardening searches. Check my list of some of the garden bloggers and sites across the country that I have listed under ‘sites’, ‘references’ and ‘resources’.  And look at some of the sites of published gardening and landscaping book authors.  You also might want to tune into Shirley Bovshow’s live streaming ‘Garden World Report‘ for a show that seems to be offering more solid content than TV stations are televising these days.

Gardening on the internet offers more possibilities to learn about every aspect from specific plants to design ideas, from construction to pest control, from local garden-related events to news around the world. Enjoy learning, but remember to be discerning. The internet is completely uncensored — and that can be both a blessing and a curse!

Protect Fruit on Fruit Trees

Protect fruit on fruit trees

Growing fruit is attractive to many pests

Fruit trees can add a lot to the landscape. They are attractive and come in sizes small enough to grow in big pots or large enough to sit under as shade trees. They offer showy white, pink or red flowers in the spring time, harvest a bounty of healthy, flavorful food in the summer and often turn lovely autumn colors to herald the coming of winter. Unfortunately, people are not the only ones willing to appreciate fruit trees. Wildlife in many forms will delight in the fruit which they consider gifts created especially for their enjoyment. I would be glad to share the bounty from my fruit trees with wildlife if only they, too, were willing to share. Sadly, wildlife is more likely to strip a tree overnight leaving any extras chewed and destroyed and scattered all over the ground. So, since you are likely to be left with neither enough fruit for yourself nor a thank-you note from wildlife showing their appreciation for all your hard work, it is up to you to protect the fruit on your fruit trees for your own consumption.

Birds, raccoons and squirrels are some of the most common fruit raiders. And there are some ingenious contraptions that squirt water or turn on lights that have been invented to scare these and other fruit thieves away. Some of these gimmicks will work well for you. Some won’t work at all.  Many of them will work once or twice until the raiding parties figure out the drill. Or you can work out your own clever deterrents yourself.

An old technique for scaring off birds is by using shiny moving objects that will move with the breeze. Aluminum foil used to be a favorite for years, but recycling old CDs has become more popular.  The glittering disks throw off sparkling rainbows that make many birds too nervous to get close. CDs are easily dangled from tree branches and then removed once the fruit is harvested.

Probably the most efficient way to protect fruit on fruit trees is to net the tree. It can be a major project on larger trees.  When a fruit tree is small, it is not a great challenge to net it over the top, but as the tree grows to adult size, it often takes two determined people to wrap a tree in plastic netting.  Make sure there are no holes at the bottom where the net meets the tree trunk or anywhere in the stretched top area.  Otherwise birds can get inside the net and become trapped.  And squirrels can crawl up a loose spot from beneath if you don’t close up net entryways. There are finer nets available online and in specialist garden centers. These are not the typical plastic ½” netting that catches on just about everything, but a net that is more akin to screening. It is a little more expensive, but a lot easier to use. Make sure your trees have been pollinated and set fruit first since this fine net will prevent most pollinators access to the tree as well as deterring the undesirable pests.

If a raccoon or squirrel is determined to get at your fruit, you will probably not be able to stop it.  Clever pests with sharp nails and teeth can find their way through all kinds of barriers.  The good news is that most of them get discouraged easily so netting can really help.

Predator scents can be bought in dry or liquid forms and may have some protecting fruit trees from would-be raiders.

One more successful way to discourage agile climbers like squirrels is to wrap a good 2 – 4′ band of thin, smooth sheet metal around the trunk of the fruit tree, ideally about 4 – 6′ above the ground.  Make sure the animals have no branches or footholds and cannot jump the distance to get up into the tree.  Both squirrels and raccoons are very athletic and dexterous, but if you make the surface smooth enough, they will have a hard time climbing up into your tree.

These are just some suggestions to help protect the fruit on fruit trees.

Recycle net bags to protect fruit and vegetables

You know those stretchy plastic netted bags you can sometimes find as packaging around avocados, potatoes, frozen turkeys and other offerings at the grocery store? Don’t just throw them away. They can be useful in the garden.

Try using small net bags to protect ripening fruit or nuts on small fruit trees. Or bag a growing squash or melon while small. A young watermelon or squash may grow large enough to fill a turkey bag. And in the meantime, and those destructive gnawing critters seem to lose interest in your edible prize growing in the bag, leaving it alone to reach maturity.

For some reason, even rabbits and mice seem to be turned away from the plastic netting yet the bags are fine enough to create no impression even on soft growth while allowing daylight full access to the ripening fruits and vegetables. So the next time you buy something in a plastic mesh bag, don’t throw the bag away. You can recycle net bags and protect your fruit and vegetables at the same time. This tip works well on trees, in raised vegetable beds and even on ground-level beds.

Fruit Tree Tips: Protect your fruit trees from sunburn

Paint tree trunks

A painted trunk on a young fruit tree

If you live where the sun is strong, one of the more important things you can do to help young fruit trees grow well is to paint the lower part of the tree trunk with white vinyl paint. I had seen it many years ago and I wondered why people painted what looked like white socks on their trees. Having lost trees to sunburn, I now understand.

The white vinyl paint is an inexpensive and easy way to add a reflective extra ‘skin’ to protect the lower part of a tree trunk. Young trees are particularly susceptible to sunburn, especially where the stem is unprotected from the shade of the upper branches. Sun can slowly burn the trunk of young trees, usually on or near to the vulnerable grafting point.  The paint coating can also discourage some chewing pests. If you aren’t sure whether or not your young fruit trees are likely to suffer from sunburn it’s worth painting a protective coat of white vinyl paint just to be sure. (Don’t use oil-based paint. The oil can burn or be absorbed into the plant tissues whereas vinyl will stay on the surface more like a thin sleeve.) And if you live where hot sun is the norm for the summer, don’t wait until the tree is damaged: paint right away just to be sure. This is one more tip to protect your fruit trees so they will grow healthy, beautiful and productive.

If you don’t want to use paint you can find white stretchy tape available in some garden centers that can do the job. Wrap the fabric in a spiral around the tree trunk to give it a sock-like covering. Don’t use a non-stretching material or a solid plastic or rubber. These will not allow air penetration or growth and can harm your tree. Paint is the easiest, longest-lasting solution, but it isn’t the only way to protect your fruit trees from sunburn.

Sunburn is likely to crack the bark and is an easy for disease to enter the tree’s life support systems. It doesn’t take much time to protect your trees from sunburn and it will be worth the effort when your repay you with lush, healthy growth — even in hot sun.